A suburban Philadelphia man whose weekend trip to a neighborhood store somehow led to a 900-mile detour to Alabama is safely back with his family, thanks to breakfasting police officers who realized something wasn’t right. Haleyville, Alabama, Mayor Ken Sunseri said Thursday that 89-year-old Jody Tarbutton, of Boothwyn, Pennnsylvania, approached the officers at a restaurant on Monday and asked them where he was.
“They said, ‘You’re in Alabama, Haleyville, Alabama,”’ Sunseri said. “And it sort of stunned him.” The officers took him to the police station and ran his driver’s license, discovering that he had been missing for two days. They contacted authorities, notified his family and got him medical attention.
“We never, never, never expected to hear the news that he was in Alabama,” his daughter Cindy Gatta said by phone Thursday night. She had contacted police in Pennsylvania and posted a plea on Facebook on Sunday in an attempt to locate her father. Gatta, of Wilmington, Delaware, flew down to Alabama and reunited with him at a hospital, where he was treated for high blood pressure and dehydration. She said her father has never been clinically diagnosed with dementia and attributed his unexpected road trip to old age and forgetfulness.
“It’s just been amazing that it all turned out so well,” Gatta said. Officials aren’t sure what route Tarbutton took, but he would have almost certainly been driving through severe weather, Sunseri said. Police found a child-size drink and two hamburgers inside Tarbutton’s pickup truck.
People in Haleyville helped Tarbutton’s children get from the airport in Birmingham to the hospital, and are now working with the family to have Tarbutton’s truck shipped back to his home. Sunseri said he was “extremely proud” of the response by the officers and wider community.
“They were a tremendous help to the family,” the mayor said. Tarbutton’s daughter said she too is grateful to the officers and others, and is calling her father’s safe return nothing short of “a Christmas miracle.”